Many people who fish at our lodge for the first time have never “mooched” before, for salmon. “Mooching,” (not to be confused with smooching), is a style of fishing developed by the Japanese in Seattle’s Elliott Bay in the 1920’s. In essence, the purpose of mooching is to get the bait (a cut plug herring) down to the salmon, using a natural presentation.
At our lodge, we don’t use downriggers to catch salmon. While fishing with Alaska Premier Charters, you might see other boats trolling through the same waters. Trolling can be effective, but I think it’s somewhat boring. You putter around in the boat until there is a fish on. The deckhand then grabs the rod for you to reel in the fish. Mooching, on the other hand, is a more hands-on approach. As the angler, you will be casting the bait, controlling how far the bait travels, feeling for bites, setting the hook, and fighting the fish all around the boat. It’s more interactive, exciting, and a lot more fun.
We use salmon mooching rods with 4 to 8 oz. sinkers, and approximately 5-8 foot long leaders (this varies among captains). We use two hooks attached to our cut plug—one embedded and one trailing hook. We use herring that are the same size as the herring found in these waters, about 6 inches long. Herring size varies in other parts of the country, and fishermen should match their herring accordingly.
We cut the herring head off on a beveled angle, so it spins as it moves through the water. We salt it in a brine to harden, allowing for longer use per herring. When repeated trips through the water soften and rip the herring on the hook, the herring will stop spinning. Your deckhand will replace your bait as often as necessary, to make sure it is in tip-top shape for catching salmon.
When you cast or lob out your bait, the main thing to remember is that you want the lead and the bait to be separated when they hit the water. This will ensure that your herring doesn’t twist up on itself as it spins through the water while dropping down to the depths. On every boat, the captain or deckhand will explain and demonstrate, if necessary, how to cast properly.
A salmon may bite “on the drop” (when your bait is dropping down on the cast), while reeling up, or while your bait is set at a certain depth with your rod sitting in the rod holder. Salmon will bite in any depth of water, from the bottom at 200 + feet, all the way up to the surface. We recommend that you work your bait a lot. Cast out, let it drop down to the depth recommended by your captain and reel it back up to the surface. The spinning bait will entice a salmon to bite. Basically, you are trying to mimic an injured herring moving through the depths. If you let your gear stagnate in one spot, the chances of a bite are diminished compared to actively working your bait. It’s normal to get tired of working your gear through the water. Ask the crew what depth to set your gear while you take a short break. The crew will help watch your rod for bites while it sits in the rod holder.
The best way to describe a salmon bite is if you feel a light “tap-tap” on your line, or see the tip of your rod jerk a little. It’s a very light sensation, which can be missed if you’re not paying attention. Your captain and deckhand are experts at discerning if you have a bite, so if they tell you that you have a fish on, please listen to them and do what they say.
If you feel a bite, or something out of the ordinary, simply start reeling your line in as quickly as you can. Salmon in our area swim towards the surface while feeding. Once a salmon has taken your bait (tap-tap), you know it’s heading upwards. This creates some slack in the line that you have to catch up with by reeling in as fast as you can. Once your line is tight, your rod will bend, indicating you’ve caught up with the fish and it’s time to set the hook.
To set the hook, reel down to the water, so that the tip of your rod touches the water and your line is nice and tight. Give a jerk upward on your line to set the hook, reel down to the water, and set the hook again. It is imperative that you set the hook properly, to increase your chances of catching the fish. If you don’t tighten up the line before you set the hook, you will probably just jerk the bait out of its mouth.
Once you’ve hooked your salmon, the rule is to follow your fish. If it makes a run underneath the boat, you are going to have to follow it by going around the bow (front), or stern (rear) of the boat. The crew will assist you to make sure you maneuver safely around the boat and the other anglers, who will continue to fish. Listen to your crew. They have years of experience and can usually tell where the fish is headed. You may have to hand off the rod to them momentarily; they are making sure the line isn’t going to tangle in the propeller, anchor line, or other fishing lines. They will get the rod back to you as soon as they can, and you should be ready for the hand-off.
Fighting a king salmon is one of life’s greatest pleasures, so enjoy it. Have fun out there; fishing should be relaxing and enjoyable. Don’t be discouraged if a fish pops off, or you miss some bites—it happens. I’m confident that before your trip is over you’ll have another opportunity to land a big one.
Written by Tom, Deckhand ~ Checkmate